Adventures in the metaontology of art: Local descriptivism, artefacts and dreamcatchers

Julian Dodd

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Descriptivism in the ontology of art is the thesis that the correct ontological proposal for a kind of artwork cannot show the nascent ontological conception of such things embedded in our critical and appreciative practices to be substantially mistaken. Descriptivists believe that the kinds of revisionary art ontological proposals propounded by Nelson Goodman, Gregory Currie, Mark Sagoff, and me are methodologically misconceived. In this paper I examine the case that has been made for a local form of descriptivism in the ontology of art: a form that does not quarrel with the possibility of revisionism in matters of 'fundamental metaphysics', but which argues that special features of the arts make descriptivism in this particular sphere obligatory. David Davies, Andrew Kania and Stephen Davies are local descriptivists in this sense. I argue that the burden of proof lies with the local descriptivist, but that this burden is too heavy for him to carry. Specifically, it emerges that the only way in which the local descriptivist can motivate his position is by arguing that our artistic practices determine the art ontological facts: a thesis that local descriptivists typically appeal to, but have not been able to argue for successfully. My conclusion is that the methodological debate in the ontology of art should now proceed by focussing on the case for global descriptivism: i.e. that form of descriptivism that opposes the possibility of revisionism in ontological matters across the board. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1047-1068
Number of pages21
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2012


  • Artefacts
  • Descriptivism
  • Metaontology
  • Ontology of art


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